In an attempt to balance the numbers in each division, the amount of teams in NCS for the '09 season breaks down like this:
Division I-20 teams
Division II-21 teams
Division III-25 teams
Division IV-29 teams
Division V-45 teams
Disregarding the numbers in Division V (many of those teams don't even field cross country teams), the breakdown of the five divisions seems fairly even. However, upon closer inspection, the truth is that some of the divisions are fairly competitive (see Division I and III) and other divisions like Division II seem a bit watered following the changes made from last season.
Looking at the boys' results from the '08 season, the defending champions (De La Salle), 2nd place finishers (Washington), 5th place finishers (Livermore) and 13th place finishers (Irvington) are all in Division I now. Moving down to Division II, by the slightest of margins, will be the defending Division I champions, the College Park Falcons. What is "slightest of margins" you may ask? One more student at College Park would have put them in Division I. Whether those numbers would be the same if the state used the same numbers for every section is another subject for another day but for now, here are my predictions for this coming season in Division II.
With such a depleted division, the favorite, by default, will be College Park. Their record speaks for itself with 5 NCS titles in the past 8 years. 4 of those titles have come in Division I ('08, '06, '02 and '01) while their 5th came in Division II ('03). Last year's title was a surprise as they upset pre-meet favorite Amador Valley 58 to 62. Their lead runner, sophomore Jeff Bickert, led the purple haired parade of Falcons with his 2nd place finish behind NCS champion Mike Roderick of Monte Vista. Besides Bickert, CP returns their 4th and 5th men from last season, Kevin Strongman and Will Holland. With the usual depth CP sports each season, there is no question that the rest of team will be filled capably by younger runners.
The best teams returning in this division will be led off by Alameda. They return their top three runners, #1 (Charles Perkins), #2 (Liam Davis) and #3 (Zachary Perkins). 3 solid runners who will be in the low 16s with Perkins already dipping under the 16:00 minute mark last year (15:59).
Next in line are rival schools, Santa Rosa and Montgomery. Santa Rosa seems to have the edge at this point with their talented #1 man, Reesey Byers. He finished in 7th place last year in the NCS Division II race running 15:44 on the Hayward course.
The individual favorite based on what he did during track season has to be Byers of Santa Rosa. Reesey had a nice cross country season with his high finish in the section meet and a 16:18 clocking at the state meet. Nice accomplishments but what separated Byers from the rest of the pack were his times at the NCS meet of champions and the state meet on the track. He finished 4th at the NCS MOC running 9:14.15 and then followed that up with a 9:06.93 effort a week later in the deepest 3200m. race in state history. Two guys that will figure quite prominently in the individual battle will be senior Danny Thomas of Arroyo who is actually the fastest returning in this division with a 15:34 on the Hayward course (4th place finisher) and a 15:42 at the Woodward Park course. The 2nd runner will be College Park's Jeff Bickert who was quite impressive last year as a sophomore finishing in 2nd in the Division I race (15:27).
The favorites for the girls' team title will be the Casa Grande. They have finished in 3rd place the last two years, qualifying for the state meet both seasons. CS continued to run well on the track this past season where won the Distance Medley Relay (12:16.71) and finished 2nd in the 4x800m. (9:35.25) at the Stanford Invitational proving they are more than just Jacque Taylor.
After Casa Grande, comes the teams with the history of success but with question marks as we head into the '09 season. Just like their boys, the College Park girls have collected their fair share of NCS titles with 6 victories since 1999 (Division I in '99, '05 and '06 and Division II in '02, '03 and '04). They have veteran runner, Alycia Cridebring leading the way but will need their 5, 6 and 7th runners (Kazune Shidara, Kelsey Gallagher and Marina Ota) to step up to compete for a top 3 team finish.
Carondelet has had a nice run of top 3 finishes in the section meet that included 2 NCS titles in '06 and '07 (state champs in '06). They have proven to be a deep team that has withstood several setbacks but we'll have to see about this season. Heather Cerney is certainly one of the toughest and fastest runners in the section so she is definitely a good starting point. A return of a healthy Nicole Hood would greatly aid Carondelet's chances of competing in this division.
The individual favorite will be Jacque Taylor who seems to have been running for more than four years but yes, this will be her senior season. She has finished no worse than 2nd place as an individual with a victory her 9th grade year, 2nd place as a sophomore and another victory last year. Last year's 2nd place finisher, Heather Cerney, was one of the most improved runners in NCS and will be back to keep Taylor honest. Cridebring is another strong runner with 2 sub 18:00 minute clockings on the Hayward course.
Division II Boys (Top 3 teams advance to state)
1) College Park-Another NCS title for the Falcons?
2) Alameda-Need to find added depth to returning top 3.
3) Santa Rosa-Reesey Byers leads way here.
4) Arroyo-Have the runners to challenge state qualifying teams.
5) Montgomery-5 return for consistently strong program.
On the bubble: Casa Grande
Top 5 returning individuals, (place) & 2008 NCS meet time:
Danny Thomas (4) Arroyo 15:34
Reesey Byers (7) Santa Rosa 15:44
Andrew Zellman (8) Ukiah 15:45
Aria Kiani (9) Montgomery 15:45
Charles Perkins (13) Alameda 15:59
From Division I-Jeff Bickert (2) 15:27
Division II Girls (Top 3 teams advance to state)
1) Casa Grande-Is this the year for their first NCS XC title?
2) College Park-Cridebring gives them chance to compete with anybody.
3) Carondelet-Consistent top program in this division.
4) Montgomery-Nacouzi gives them a strong #1.
5) Santa Rosa-Will battle Santa Rosa once again in this division.
On the bubble: Alameda
Top 5 returning individuals, (place) & 2008 NCS meet time:
Jacque Taylor (1) Casa Grande 17:17
Heather Cerney (2) Carondelet 17:30
Julie Nacouzi (4) Montgomery 18:10
Suzi Rozga (9) Santa Rosa 18:31
Amber Piersol (11) Windsor 18:42
From Division I-Alycia Cridebring (2) 17:56
Feel free to comment on the above rankings. This division looks like it has some very good individuals who need some help from their teammates to advance to the state meet as part of a team. Did I miss anybody? Any surprises? Freshmen studs and studettes?